Sarasota, Fla. – “Basically, what we’ve been doing for maybe four or five presidential elections is we’ve been running in only half the country,” Rudy Giuliani told a packed ballroom in his matter-of-fact New York speaking style. “We nominate a candidate, and the day after the nomination we close the campaign headquarters in New Jersey and California and New York. We concentrate on the states we have to win, and we give ourselves this uncomfortably close margin. What we need is a candidate who can contest them in every single state, instead of just a handful of states.”
He continued, “I’m the candidate who can run a 50-state race, and keep the presidency in Republican hands.”
Giuliani’s statement, made at the Sarasota County Lincoln Day dinner on Friday night, was greeted with warm applause, as though no one in the room recognizes the irony. So far in this presidential race, Giuliani has been characterized not by his ability to run a 50-state campaign, but by his inability to run anything more than a one-state campaign in Florida. His strategic retreat from every state where victory was in doubt — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina — has left him cut off on Florida’s peninsula. He has backed himself up against the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, so that his next move is victory, surrender, or a very long swim.
This was supposed to be the eve of Rudy’s triumph. Instead, with supporters such as Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Rep. Bill Paxon in attendance, Rudy talks about a disaster-reinsurance program — a thoroughly local issue that has become an important part of his Florida campaign. Rudy loves to talk about this, and about an expected five year “gap” when the Space Station will be inaccessible. NASA is, of course, a major employer and a major issue in Florida. Under his presidency, it won’t happen, he promises. One gets the feeling that Giuliani could be running for governor instead of president. About all that was missing from his remarks was a plug for Amendment One, the property-tax measure that will be on the ballot Tuesday.
Giuliani’s embrace of these local issues had been calculated as a way of earning popular Republican Gov. Charles Crist’s endorsement. So much for that — it unexpectedly went to McCain the following night.
Giuliani’s lead in the polls disappeared long ago. He explains this away by arguing that he is an “unconventional candidate,” which is somehow an advantage.
“We need an unconventional candidate,” he says. “If we run a conventional candidate, we will lose.”
What does he mean by “unconventional”? He explained it on Hannity and Colmes immediately after the speech: “Look at my positions and where you have strength and weakness, and the reality is Florida looked like the best place for us to be able to play out our campaign.”
“Unconventional” apparently means pro-choice on abortion; that social conservatives are the obstacle to a Republican victory. Yet with the pro-life-vote split between four or more candidates in each January primary state, he is the only Republican still in the race without a double-digit finish. He may finish with double digits in Florida, but at best he will be a distant third, after focusing the last three months here, and an amount of money that we will not even know until January’s end.
This finish, when it comes about, will likely disqualify Giuliani from the big-state victories he expected on Feb. 5.
There may be something to say for convention after all.
— David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.